Friday, September 11, 2009
If you are tired of documentaries that just make you feel miserable about how bad everything is, then here’s a refreshing change of pace, “Earth Days” (opening September 11 at Landmark’s Ken Cinema). Here’s a film that captures the passion and idealism of activists who want to change the world.
As good as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Flow” were in identifying and defining global problems, the down side of their particular approaches is that they did such a good job of scaring you that you feel a bit paralyzed and terrified. It all sounds so bad and so big a problem that as an individual you feel daunted. Now both films ended with calls to action, as did the documentary “The Eleventh Hour.” But all three films spent the majority of their screen time showing us how awful things are.
“Earth Days” doesn’t avoid showing us the dangers that lurk ahead if we do not change our ways soon, but the bulk of Robert Stone’s film focuses on people who are trying to do something or who have done something. Stone’s film looks back to the beginning of the environmental movement to capture a sense of the passion and idealism that fueled the people working for a cause they believed in. Seeing people who have dedicated decades to the environmental movement – enjoying victories, struggling through defeats but never giving up – is inspiring.
Stone’s film essentially starts with the basic premise: we can change the world. Then he introduces us to a variety of people who have worked toward this end – an astronaut, a politician, a teacher, a scientist, a student, and others. Stone interviews people such as Former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall; biologist and Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich; Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand; and Apollo Nine astronaut Rusty Schweickart; He gets these people to talk about where and when they began their involvement and then he gets them to talk about the journey they have been on, their ups and downs, and what keeps them going. Intermixed with these talking head interviews (all of which place the subjects against effective backdrops) is stunning footage of nature and our world. Whether it’s vast geometrically divided farm fields or gorgeous oceans, the film serves up vast panoramas of the very things we are trying to either manage or save.
Important events in the environmental movement timeline are duly noted -- the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's “Silent Spring,” the first1970 Earth Day celebration, Jacques Cousteau’s sea exploration, Jimmy Carter’s attempts to focus America’s attention on renewable energy. Stone gives us a history lesson through archive footage and interviews.
"Earth Days" (not rated) is a call to action that inspires us by providing examples of those who have already made progress. Each of the people in the film has achieved something, on some level. Achievements ranging from working within the political system to pass legislation to writing books to focus attention on specific issues to simply making a decision to not have children as a personal choice in fighting the population explosion. “Earth Days” is a compelling documentary and it’s exquisitely shot and assembled. It celebrates the spirit of dissent, organized protest, and political activism. We may still have a long way to go but "Earth Days" applauds those who have helped bring us this far.
Companion viewing: “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Flow,” "Silent Running"